Collaborative Growth

Partner Program Aug 2, 2023 14 minutes read

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    A better way to do marketing and sales.

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    The old playbooks aren’t working

    Foundationally, there are only two ways to grow a business: inbound (marketing in such a way that you drive people to your business over time), and outbound (going directly to prospects, and pitching them on your business). And while that fundamental truth hasn’t changed, the tactics certainly have.

    Namely, they’re becoming less effective. What got us here isn’t going to get us where we want to go. We need a better way to do marketing and sales. Here are a couple of examples…

    Organic search is diminishing

    For years, companies could just do search engine and conversion optimization and experience amazing growth. We were one of them. In fact, most of our growth was built on the back of SEO over the past five years. It’s taken us to a new level of revenue and signups and helped grow awareness of our brand.

    But SEO, and the nature of inbound, is changing. And fast. SERPs seem to be sending less traffic to websites than they used to. And thanks to AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard, users will increasingly get answers summarized from their favorite language learning model (LLM) rather than dig through your website looking for them. It’s also never been harder to rank. There’s more competition than ever, both in SEO and in overall businesses.

    Outbound is increasingly ignored

    If you’ve been active on LinkedIn for more than five minutes, you’re aware of this. It feels like 9 out of 10 invitations to connect are just sales pitches waiting to happen. Our inboxes are flooded with cold outreach. I’ve even seen people complain of salespeople reverse-engineering their Calendly or Zoom links, to try and get calls. Apps like Gated are gaining popularity, as people look for help to reduce the outbound noise.

    The point is, even if your outbound program is really good, the odds are increasingly stacked against you. Besides that, most people you reach out to aren’t aware they have the problem you solve. And if they are, they aren’t in enough pain to seek out a solution. At least not yet. So even if your message makes it through the gauntlet and avoids being marked trash or SPAM, it’s likely falling on deaf ears.

    It’s getting harder to reach your target customer through all the noise

    Social algorithms can throttle your reach overnight, and start charging you to reach all your followers. Every day new podcasts and articles are published, flooding your market with new content. Newsletters are popping up left and right. 

    Your audience only has so much attention. They can only read so many newsletters, listen to so many podcasts, or read so many articles. In the wake of all that noise, it’s getting harder and harder to make something so good, they consume it, then share it with others.

    There’s got to be a better way. And Pete Caputa (former VP of Sales at HubSpot, and CEO of Databox) has an idea of what that might be.

    A new way to do marketing and sales

    Pete believes we need a better approach to marketing and sales. Where the outbound team brings value to prospects, not just cold pitches. And where the marketing team lifts up other subject matter experts, not just champions their own point of view. 

    He calls it, “Collaborative Growth”. At its core, it’s a method of doing marketing and sales hand in hand with your target customer. 

    Here’s a broad overview of how it works:

    You start by identifying a set of questions or a topic your target customers would find extremely valuable. Then you crowdsource insights and expertise from that target audience, in order to help you offer the widest, most full perspective on the topic. Next, you compile and summarize all those insights into a “pillar” piece of content. From there, you share those insights and promote the contributors across all your other marketing channels. The key here is that you’re actively promoting your partners: the collaborators who shared expertise and valuable insights with you. You’re sort of promoting it in conjunction with them, and featuring them on your channels (vs just featuring your own brand).

    Instead of cold pitching, your outbound team can send valuable opportunities to get their company in the spotlight and showcase their expertise. Instead of trying to be the sole subject matter expert in your newest article, you’re highlighting a dozen other voices. Instead of another mediocre piece of content, you’re getting something unique, fresh, comprehensive, and valuable. And instead of publishing on your other channels and hoping for engagement, you’re able to co-promote the experts that helped make the content you’re sharing. And as a result, you’re getting more impressions, shares, and links to it than you would have.

    The playbook that grew Databox to $7.5m ARR

    Pete developed the Collaborative Growth model along with John Bonini, our former Dir. of Marketing. They didn’t set out to create a new framework for marketing and sales. At the time, they faced a big hurdle. Databox’s price point made it hard to justify paid acquisition, so they had decided to grow largely through organic content. But they quickly found there was no way they could do it alone. 

    Databox is a platform that lets you pull in data from all the tools you use (e.g. analytics, accounting, CRM, ad platforms) so you can benchmark it, track it in custom dashboards, forecast its growth, and get insights on how to improve it. We serve a lot of different companies, integrate with 70+ tools, and serve c-suite, marketing, rev ops, sales, and CS. 

    There was no possible way they could be the subject matter experts and write valuable content for all those integrations, industries, or departments. They could be experts at using data to drive predictable growth, but they’d have to crowdsource the rest.

    So they did. Each month, the team would identify a series of new topics they could create content around. They’d run a survey to draw statistically relevant insights to help answer important questions and feature the best qualitative insights in the write-up. This gave the articles unique insights and perspectives you couldn’t always find elsewhere. Each one was the result of 25-100 companies’ expertise.

    This drove hundreds of thousands of organic sessions, tens of thousands of signups, attracted hundreds of backlinks and social shares and helped put Databox on the map. It’s the primary marketing lever that grew us to where we are now.

    It also served as the foundation for the Collaborative Growth framework we’re helping other companies implement. Since that time, we’ve iterated and improved how we do this.

    Let’s go through a specific example.

    How to do Collaborative Growth, step by step

    There are 5 steps to the framework:

    Step 1: Pick a market

    The first step is to pick a niche market you can serve. This might be something like marketing agencies, B2B SaaS, or manufacturing.

    Step 2: Identity burning questions

    Next, identify a set of topics that the audience would find incredibly valuable. Usually, these are burning questions they want to answer, in order to grow their business or their careers. It might be something like, “What paid channel yields the best ROI for our industry?”, “How can we reduce our time to close”, or “How are our clients using AI to solve XYZ problem right now?”.

    Step 3: Ask prospects to contribute, and host the conversation

    After you’ve formed your topic(s), it’s time to invite other voices to contribute. This is one of the key tenants in Collaborative Growth: lifting up other subject matter experts’ voices and insights, not just your own company’s perspective. In essence, you’re inviting guests and hosting the conversation. But you can do it in a variety of ways.

    For example, you could host:

    • A Zoom interview with 10 experts
    • A podcast
    • A survey
    • A social conversation thread or conversation

    Step 4: Compile all insights

    After you’ve hosted the conversation and collected insights from contributors, create one flagship piece of content that compiles all of them together. Depending on your marketing programs, this might be an article, visual, video, or newsletter issue. 

    The idea is that you want one source where all the insights from all the voices can be found and referenced. Although you’ll repurpose the insights across all your other marketing channels in the final step, this piece of content is most likely to attract the most views, shares, and links. 

    Step 5: Distribute the insights & promote your partners

    Finally, pick out all the best insights and share them on the other marketing channels you’re investing in. If your flagship piece of content was an article, you might feature the best insights and quotes from your contributors in a series of posts on LinkedIn or Twitter. Or you might produce a video summarizing it all, and share it on YouTube.

    Wherever you repurpose it, the key is to promote your partners: the subject matter experts or voices that shared their perspectives and insights. Put them, and their companies in the spotlight. Link to them, tag them and reference them.

    Two key points:

    Partner with your target customers, don’t pitch them. This isn’t a Trojan horse for making a sale. Yes, you’ll be making connections, growing your network, and building a relationship. And a happy byproduct of this is that you’re likely to see more inbound leads. But this strategy won’t work for long if you immediately follow up each opportunity to contribute with a “pitch slap”.

    It’s perfectly valid to still add your own point of view, or “take” on the insights you receive. We aren’t advocating that your marketing team not hold a point of view on the “right” way to do something or offer up their own answers to questions. It’s perfectly valid to summarize all the insights you’ve crowdsourced, and then give your take on them. Disagree with certain points. Reinforce others. You obviously still need your own voice. This method is just meant to help you create better content that offers more diverse perspectives, that lifts your target customers up and contains unique or proprietary insights your audience can’t find elsewhere.

    A few specific examples

    Example 1: Databox

    While browsing our benchmark data on LinkedIn ads, we noticed that while the cost of direct conversions was high, the cost for impression-based ads was quite low. This led us to ask a question our target customers are very interested in: how can companies leverage impression-based ads, treating LinkedIn like a digital billboard and getting their messaging seen by the right people?

    We did a social post and launched a survey to partner with other experts and get their take. The topic really resonated with a lot of companies. Our team compiled the best responses to the social post, along with the quantitative insights of the survey, into a comprehensive article distilling the data and insights, and linking out to the featured contributors. 

    For distribution, we featured the topic and article in our newsletter and hosted a podcast interview around it, citing our original benchmark data.

    Example 2: Sakas and Company

    Sakas & Company utilizes decades of experience to help agency leaders simplify and grow their companies. They created an invite-only benchmark group for agencies who want to benchmark their performance to other agencies like them (you can view it here if you’re interested). 

    He partnered with us to launch a survey addressing the topic of how agencies are marketing themselves. Together, we gathered over 200 respondents, 90 of whom joined Sakas’ benchmark group to see how their performance compared to peers, and to view the full survey results. Those insights will be compiled and discussed in an extensive research article, multiple podcast interviews, and a series of LinkedIn posts. It makes for unique content that you can’t find anywhere else, and that addresses some major pains for Sakas’ target market.

    Example 3: Spot On

    Spot On helps healthcare software companies drive qualified leads, increase demo calls, and improve their positioning. It’s notoriously difficult to reach healthcare leaders (doctors, or the c-suite of a multi-hospital chain), so we partnered with co-founder Susie Kelley to run a survey around how companies in that space are reaching “hard to reach” prospects.

    Susie is reaching out to healthcare tech companies who have great marketing, and asking them for an interview to get insights on how they’re reaching prospects. She’s learning from them, and they’re learning from her. And all the insights will be compiled into an extensive research report, and the survey insights will be shared in her private benchmark group for healthcare tech companies. 

    These three examples contain all the tenets of Collaborative Growth listed above:

    • They’re reaching a target market
    • They’re addressing burning questions or knowledge gaps that market has
    • They’re inviting the market to contribute their knowledge
    • They’re creating unique and valuable content you can’t find anywhere else
    • And that content is highlighting companies in their market

    A win-win marketing and sales approach

    Collaborative Growth helps you create better quality marketing content, that offers more unique and proprietary insights that your competitors can’t. And it’s likely to attract more shares, impressions, and links. It provides a natural way for your outbound team to grow their network, and build trust and awareness with prospects. And as a result, your brand will grow in awareness as the network effects of creating and sharing content with dozens of other companies compound.

    And just as importantly, it helps the industry you’re serving. Your target customers get a chance to share their expertise or insights and get promoted on your channels. And your industry gets better content, that actually answers their burning questions and solves real problems they face.

    How we’re helping companies do Collaborative Growth

    In the examples above, we highlighted ways we’re working with our partners to do collaborative growth together. And right now, we’re extending that offer to everyone reading this.

    If you’re a marketing agency that wants to embrace Collaborative Growth but needs help interviewing your target customers and compiling proprietary insights for your content, that’s where we come in.

    Here’s what we’ll do:

    1) We’ll build you a private, invite-only “benchmark group”. 

    We’ll select the integrations and metrics your target customers are most interested in. When they join, they’ll be able to benchmark themselves against peers in the market and find opportunities for improvement. You can invite customers and prospects to join your group to get unique insights they can’t find anywhere else.

    2) We’ll co-host a survey with you.

    We’ll help you create a survey and collect responses for it, that addresses burning questions or surfaces valuable insights for your target audience. Later, you’ll be able to turn these insights into social posts, articles, newsletter issues, podcast episodes, and more.

    3) We’ll add the survey insights to your benchmark group.

    After the survey is complete, we’ll make the aggregate results of the survey available inside your benchmark group, making the group even more valuable for your prospects.

    4) We’ll promote your group to our audience.

    Once your benchmark group and survey are complete, we’ll feature it on our public Benchmarks App and help you drive visitors there. Your target audience will join your benchmark group to see how they compare to peers or read valuable survey insights. If they’re performing below the average, you can offer to help them improve.

    Book a call with our Partner team, or learn more about creating a private benchmark group.


    How much does this cost?

    It’s 100% free to any agency or community that wants to partner with us. Your growth is our growth. We want to introduce new companies to Databox and our new Benchmarks tool. And you want a better way to reach prospects and stand out from your competitors. We think this program does both.

    Will I have access to the data?

    Yes! You’ll have full access to the survey and benchmark group data. You’ll also have access to all the members of your group if you want to connect with them directly.

    I’m interested, but have more questions.

    Feel free to book a call with our Partner Marketing team. We’ll be happy to answer all your questions and get the ball rolling if you decide to move forward.

    Article by
    Jeremiah Rizzo

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